Experimental eVTOL plane will be used as the platform for Uber Elevate
Uber has selected Aurora Flight Sciences as a partner to develop its electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft for the Uber Elevate Network.
Aurora’s eVTOL concept is derived from the XV-24A X-plane programme currently in development with the U.S. Department of Defense, as well as other autonomous aircraft the company has developed over the years.
The company says it has adapted and combined an autonomous flight guidance system from its Centaur optionally-piloted aircraft, the perception and collision avoidance system from the AACUS program, and the battery electric propulsion system from the XV-24A demonstrator to create the eVTOL design envisioned by Uber.
“Uber is taking a big step forward toward making the world’s first VTOL network a reality and our partnership with Aurora Flight Sciences will help get us off the ground,” said Mark Moore, Director of Engineering for Uber.
The ride-hailing operator envisions a system that will enable users of the Elevate Network to request an Aurora eVTOL aircraft via a computer or mobile software applications.
The aircraft completed its first successful first test flight of the aircraft on April 20, 2017, the goal of delivering 50 aircraft for testing by 2020 is well within reach. You can view simulations and test flights of a subscale model in the video below:
Flights of fancy?
The company has already proposed a number of experimental eVTOL and other aircraft, such as the LightningStrike XV-24A X-plane – many features of which are present in the Elevate aircraft – although this is a hybrid model.
The XV-24A is a tilt-wing unmanned aerial vehicle powered by an Electric Distributed Propulsion (EDP) system. Electric motors power twenty four variable-pitch ducted fans, providing enough thrust for hovering and cruising. A single Rolls-Royce AE 1107C turboshaft engine – used on the V-22 Osprey – drives three Honeywell generators which provide power to the wing and canard electric motors.
“The Uber Elevate mission is all about low noise, high reliability, and low cost,” said Aurora CEO John Langford. “By drawing on our nearly 30 years of successful autonomy and robotic programs, Aurora is well positioned to deliver on this urban solution. We have already built and flown the first proof-of-concept aircraft and we’re excited to partner with Uber in accelerating the eVTOL initiative.”
It is certainly an exciting project, however a number of hurdles stand in the venture’s way. In a dossier prepared by Uber for the Elevate programme, it notes that:
Design mission range can likely be met within the next 5 years—this means embracing VTOL designs that can achieve cruise aerodynamic efficiencies with a Lift/Drag ratio of greater than 10 (with 12 to 17 desirable) and battery cell specific energy of 400 Wh/kg. Electric VTOLs will likely use large battery packs, nominally a 140 kWh pack for a 4 person aircraft.
Even with that increase in energy density, the aircraft would require a 350kg battery to deliver its required amount of output, adding considerable mass before the vehicle and passengers have even been accounted for.
Certainly the race is already on to develop a pack light enough and energy-dense enough, to meet these capabilities within five years. But ElecTrans remains doubtful as to whether this will all be enough to get Uber Elevate off the ground as envisioned.